Workers’ Compensation Insurance in California
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California workers’ compensation insurance

Workers' compensation insurance covers the cost of work-related injuries. It's required for all California businesses that have employees.

Who needs workers’ comp insurance in California?

Every state has different requirements for workers’ compensation insurance. In California, workers’ compensation is mandatory for all employers, even if the company only has one employee.

California law requires a business owner to carry workers’ comp insurance for employees who regularly work in California, even if the business is headquartered in another state.

Do you need workers’ compensation if you are self-employed? 

Sole proprietors and independent contractors should strongly consider buying workers' comp even when it's not required. If you get injured on the job, this policy can help pay your medical expenses and provide part of the wages you lose while recovering.

Your personal health insurance provider might deny a claim if your injury is related to your work, which would leave you paying these bills on your own.

Roofers and others in a hazardous line of work may be required to carry workers’ comp, even if they don’t employ anyone else.

Whether or not you’re able to get workers’ compensation depends on the type of business and the ownership structure. Regardless, if you’re self-employed, it’s a good idea to check with the California Department of Industrial Relations to determine what your rights and liabilities are so that you can be sure that you’re properly insured.

Is workers’ comp required for part-time employees? 

How many hours an employee works does not affect their entitlement to workers’ compensation. It’s possible to get an independent contractor workers’ compensation waiver, but California law presumes anyone who works for an employer to be an employee.

If a claim is filed, the burden is on the employer to prove that someone is an independent contractor and not an employee.

How much does workers' compensation insurance cost in California?

Male business owner calculating number of employees and other factors

Estimated employer rates for workers’ compensation in California are $1.70 per $100 in covered payroll. Your cost is based on a number of factors, including:

  • Payroll
  • Location
  • Number of employees
  • Industry and risk factors
  • Coverage limits
  • Claims history

How do you buy workers' compensation insurance in California?

There are three ways to buy a workers' comp policy in California:

  • You can buy it from a private insurance carrier. With Insureon, you can submit an easy online application to compare quotes from top-rated insurers.
  • You can buy it from the state fund. California has a competitive state fund for workers' compensation: StateFund First.
  • You can self-insure your business. Employers who meet certain requirements, including at least three years in business, can apply to the Office of Self-Insurance Plans (OSIP) for approval.

How does workers’ comp work in California? 

Employers and employees are both protected by workers’ compensation settlements. California has created laws to streamline the process of making sure that an injured worker can quickly receive benefits, while the employer is protected from lengthy and expensive litigation and lost productivity.

Policies usually include employer's liability insurance, which can help cover legal expenses if an employee blames their employer for an injury. However, the exclusive remedy provision in most workers' comp policies prohibits an employee from suing their employer if they accept workers' comp benefits.

California law requires coverage to provide basic workers' compensation benefits for:

  • Medical care
  • Temporary disability benefits
  • Permanent disability benefits
  • Supplemental job displacement benefits
  • Return-to-work supplement
  • Death benefits

Often, the employer, employee, and workers’ comp insurer can reach an agreement without difficulty. However, the California DWC Information and Assistance Unit can help settle disputes and guide the parties through litigation if an issue cannot be resolved any other way.

The California Department of Industrial Relations regulates workers’ comp insurance. California employers and workers can find resources for all aspects of workers’ compensation claims and laws through the agency’s Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC).

What are the penalties for not having workers' comp insurance?

Failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance in California is a criminal offense. The penalties include:

  • A stop order is typically issued to the business, violation of which could result in a fine of $10,000 or more and imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.
  • The Uninsured Employer’s Benefit Trust Fund could file a lien against an employer’s property if it needs to pay benefits to an injured worker of an illegally uninsured employer.
  • A penalty assessed by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement could be twice the amount the employer would have paid in premiums during the time of uninsurance or $1,500 per employee during the period of uninsurance.

If a worker is injured and the employer did not have workers’ comp, the employer could be liable for a penalty of $10,000 per employee at the time of injury if the case is compensable, or $2,000 per employee at the time of injury if that particular case was found to be non-compensable. The maximum penalty is $100,000.

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Workers’ compensation death benefits in California

Death benefits are an important component of workers’ compensation coverage in California. They provide:

  • Reasonable burial expenses up to $10,000
  • Death benefits will continue until the youngest minor dependent’s 18th birthday (disabled minors receive benefits for life) at the total temporary disability rate

Death benefits for dependents are determined by the number of dependents:

  • One dependent: up to $250,000
  • Two or more total dependents: up to $290,000
  • Three or more total dependents: up to $320,000
  • One total dependent, plus one or more partial dependents: $250,000 plus four times annual support for partial dependents (up to $290,000)
  • One or more partial dependents: eight times annual support up to $250,000

Workers’ comp settlements in California

There are two types of workers’ comp settlements in California:

Stipulated findings and award. This is when the injured worker and the insurance company agree on the extent of disability and benefits, resulting in biweekly payments unless there’s a financial need for benefits to be paid upfront. The insurance company would continue to pay for future medical treatment. The injured worker might be able to reopen a case if the medical condition becomes worse within five years.

Compromise and release. An injured worker is paid a lump sum that closes the case. Any future medical care would not be covered, even if it is related to the injury.

Any settlement would need to be approved by a California workers’ comp judge. There’s often an informal hearing before the judge. Although the insurance company would handle this, it’s good for the employer to remain informed about the ongoing progress of settlement negotiations in case it becomes the subject of later litigation.

Statutes of limitations for workers’ compensation claims

An injured employee has one year to file a workers’ compensation claim. California regulators can extend that time under certain circumstances:

  • If the worker is under 18 at the time of injury, the one-year statute of limitations would begin when the person becomes a legal adult.
  • If there is a repetitive stress injury, the worker may file a claim up to one year from the date that they became aware of the injury.
  • A worker has up to five years from the date of injury to file a claim if the original injury caused additional or further injury.

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Insureon makes it easy for business owners to compare workers’ compensation insurance quotes online. Complete one application online to review quotes specific to your business and industry from leading U.S. insurers. Start an application for a workers’ compensation insurance quote today.

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